Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Polluter Gets Paid Principle

Some decades ago OECD coined the Polluter Pays Principle. That is an appealing principle which states than the one that causes pollution should also pay for it - that is for the cleaning up etc. Unfortunately the principle is not always applied. In farming polluters have for decades been paid to produce more and pollute more, even if it is changing a bit the global picture is largely the same. Many countries are subsidising chemical fertilizers just to mention an example.

In the green house gas schemes there is a risk that we are endorsing the complete opposite principle, the one where the Polluter Gets Paid. I am here mainly thinking about the Carbon Capture and Storage technologies (CCS). They are costly, still not tested, technologies that are promoted by the large energy corporations. The cost for reduction of CO2 with that technology is very high, in the range of 40-50 Euro per ton, according to Mc Kinsey. Meanwhile there are plenty of methods to reduce carbon dioxide emmissions that are either for free or that saves a lot of money, such as driving less cars and use less AC or reduce temperatures a bit. In agriculture and forestry there are also methods that are a lot cheaper and which also have other benefits (such as improving the productivity of the soil or improve bio-diversity). So why is then CCS promoted?

There are two reasons: Firstly the energy corporations see them as a possibility to avoid the otherwise inevitable downward pressure on their production. It is only the CCS technologies that can cope with a constant increase of energy production and consumption. While the rest of the world discuss reduction of energy use, the energy companies are preparing for the opposite. Secondly, and what this posting is aboutis that by developing this "service" the energy companies themselves can ascertain that they will capture most of the carbon sequestration or emission reduction market which are under development. In other words, they will keep the profit in their pocket.

Hey wait a second, it gets worse: Not only will they keep the profit, they will actually increase their revenue and profit substantially. First they will earn the same money as today from selling energy. And then, in addition, society will impost a number of fees, taxes or other measures to generate money to pay for carbon sequestration and emmission reduction. Depending on the construction of these fees they will be paid over the taxes or over the energy bill, in most countries a mix of it. But the good thing, for the energy companies that is, is that they will through CCS capture most of this money. So the government de facto will reward them for their pollution, expand their business and their profit. The Polluter Gets Paid Principle. And I forgot to mention, they obviously think the tax payers should foot the bill for development of this technology. For those that hesitate that my analysis is correct can read the following article in the Guardian. Shell: market alone cannot deliver green energy

The thing reminds me a bit of the firm in Stockholm that was cleaning walls from graffiti. To boost their business they provided youngsters with spray cans.....

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Finishing the book

I will retreat a week to the beautiful West Coast of Sweden, where I will sit and "finish" my book Garden Earth. "Finish" is a dubious word when talking about a publishing process. My personal experience is that it is not until the things is printed that it is really "finished".

Anyway I am happy that Gidlunds will publish the Swedish version. Once that is published, hopefully in April, I will start working on a slightly modified English version.

Nice to just get away when the rest of society gets into pre-Christmas stress.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Taking care of the garden

Acceptance speech for the honorary doctorate in Science at Uganda Martyrs University 20th November 2009

Your Lordship Chancellor, ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honoured and humbled by this award. I have visited Uganda many times over the last fifteen years and I am happy to have contributed in making Uganda a leading country for organic in Africa. I am also happy to have assisted the Uganda Martyrs University in becoming a leading institution for organic agriculture in Africa. It is a special pleasure to congratulate the first Bachelors of Science in Organic Agriculture. Of course there are many more than me that have contributed. I think of my life companion over 33 years, Kari Örjavik and our friends and partners at the Torfolk farm in Sweden, but also of people in Uganda such as Moses Mwanga, Alan Tulip, Charles Walaga and Alastair Taylor.

Organic Agriculture has come a long way. Many people have understood organic as being pesticide free and free from synthetic inputs. And it is that, but it is a lot more. The origin of the word organic is the perception of the soil as a living organism, but organic is more than just the soil, it is about the plans, animals and people. During my presidency of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement we developed a widened understanding of organic agriculture by stating the four principles of organic farming.
The principle of Health – that organic farming is about health of the plants and the eco-system and ultimately of the human beings. Our health and the health of nature are forever connected.
The principle of Ecology – that we in organic farming work in accordance with the same principles as most eco-systems, circulation of nutrients, diversity, balance.
The principle of Fairness – that our responsibility extends to how we treat animals in the farm, surrounding eco-systems and our fellow human beings.
The principle of Care – that we take a precautionary attitude and see ourselves as stewards of the parts of the planet under our responsibility

Organic agriculture is presently recognised for
- that it is environmentally friendly
- contributing to bio-diversity
- providing eco-systems services, such as soil-building, water purification and climate regulation
- being less energy demanding
- being well adapted to the conditions for African small-holders
- being culturally appropriate, building on long traditions
- providing food security

Ultimately, the agriculture system is linked to our human social and economic systems and to ecology. In my current study, Garden Earth, I take this discussion further. It is due for publication in Swedish in April and in English towards the end of the year. In that study I look at the big picture developments.
We can look at agriculture productivity per area; per unit water; per invested dollar; per man – or woman – hour or food per energy unity. For some reason most agriculture studies and statistics focus productivity per area unit, but in the same time we know that the most competitive farmers are not the one having the highest yields, on contrary we find that the cheapest wheat is from Argentina, Australia and USA where yields often are less than half of those in Europe. As a matter of fact Bangladesh is the country in the world that produces most food per area unit and not the industrial countries. The reason is mainly that land is scarce in Bangladesh. In the same way capital productivity is often very high in poor countries, as capital is so limited. The most productive agriculture in arid areas is often not farming at all but pastoralism. By grazing, e.g. goats, we can utilise nature areas which would be too dry for any cultivation. In that sense the water productivity is very high under those conditions. Taking into account the increased prices of oil and a energy-scarce future, we certainly have to look a lot more into the energy productivity of farming. Through the use of external energy we have increased productivity tremendously, first by using animals for draught and wind for pumping and milling, but the real revolution was the introduction of fossil fuel. If we “translate” the energy content in oil into the man-power of a human, each person in the world has now some 30-40 energy slaves working for her, in the rich countries this amounts to some two hundred. So there is really nothing magic with how much we can produce.

The fundamental food equation was always that a farmer had to produce enough food to feed him or herself and a number of dependants, children, elderly and sick as well as number of people living on the back of the farmers, priests, soldiers, lords and governments. So each farmer need to keep perhaps 3-5 other people alive. And it goes without saying that a farmer has to produce enough food energy to sustain these people and herself. An energy deficient food production system was simply impossible before fossil fuel. With ample supply of fossil fuels this all changed and modern food systems actually consume some ten to twenty times as much energy than they produce. Some will now object and say we can’t compare energy in oil with energy in food. Of course they are not the same, we can’t eat oil, at least not yet, but all over the world there is a discussion about bio-fuels, that we should grow crops for fuel. And suddenly we see that there is a strong relationship between energy in food and energy in oil. The highest energy productivity is found in improved, intensive traditional systems. It is on those systems we need to build the agriculture for the future.

My discussion about productivity has so far been mainly about the production of food and energy. We all know, however, that farming produces many other things such as eco-system services; culture; meaning and connectedness to nature and we need to look at productivity also for those public goods.

Sir, let me expand my discussion beyond agriculture. The industrial capitalist production system has created unprecedented productivity and wealth. It has also contributed to the increase of human rights and liberation of women and other oppressed groups compared to the preceding feudal societies. But it has also come with a price. The price is depletion of natural resources; squeezing out other organisms and ecosystems to such an extent that we are endangering our own survival; causing climate change and chemical and medical contamination, to mention just a few. Further, there is no evidence that this growth has delivered more human well-being. Is not well-being that we should be striving for rather then GDP figures? Our society has also failed in creating wealth for the many. Big parts of humanity are as poor today as they were fifty years ago, despite unprecedented growth worldwide markets. We have failed to create an equitable society. In addition, the economic system,

The capitalist economy and its associated values – such as the vision of constant growth, risk-taking and competition – were perhaps appropriate for a world bent on expansion and colonization. But we have now colonized what there is to colonize and spread ourselves over all parts of the globe. Economic growth is still possible (we can always create new ‘virtual’ globes on the internet, can’t we? Biological, physical and geographic growth isn’t possible. Therefore, we need new values and paradigms. Most likely we also need a new economy and new forms of social capital. Population growth also needs to be checked.

We have changed the globe so much that Nature can’t make it without us anymore and more and more wild life is dependent on us for its survival. There is no point in looking back to the time when we were equal to the giraffe, the carrot or the sheep. Today, whether we like it or not, we must act as gardeners for the whole Garden Earth. In that garden we have to look after the other parts of nature, not as resources to exploit or sinks were we can dump our waste, but as integral parts of the web of life,
of our Garden

Monday, November 23, 2009

Competition or cooperation

Last Thursday I read a column in the International Herald Tribune. The columnist, an American reflected over that when he was lecturing in Paris, students saw solidarity as the antonym to competition, while where he came from monopoly was the first choice. I think the observations contains more than a simple difference in culture or language. The French apparently saw the fierce (economic) competition as opposed to solidarity.

For me I would have selected cooperation as the antonym to competition. That is, we can solve problems, or exploit opportunities not only through the model of competition, but also through cooperation. The platform for the (capitalist) competition is the market. The platform for cooperation can be society in the form of state but also in the form of civil society organisations.

In real life, I don't think the choice is the either/or but both or all three. We certainly need comptetition (and diversity) but no progress is made in human society without cooperation, and without solidarity progress might be immoral, without heart.

A problem today is the competition has been given supremacy as an ideology. Yes it is an ideology with its own fundamentalists, and they are as scary as other fundamentalists.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Small is not only beautiful - it is productive as well

Recently I had the pleasure of moderating a seminar at the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry in Stockholm. It was about how organic farming can meet the challenge of climate change. It was an interesting seminar, which showed how complex the reality is, and that there are no simple solutions. The seminar had a very wide approach to the issue and included aspects not only of bio-diversity but also about social diversity, one farmer, Anders Lunneryd, explaining how immigrants are working with vegetable production at this farm as own enterprises.

In essence niches and border zones are very important for biodiversity and for resilience. Not only diversity, but also productivity is often a lot higher in border zones, just think about coasts or waterholes in the desert, or the farmland-forest border. In permaculture and agro-forestry such border zones are created. I remember what Tor Nörretranders wrote in The User Illusion (Märk Världen) about how the modern civilization tries to make thing predictable, how there are no straight lines in nature and hardly any in old cultures while the industrial society is full of them. With science and technology we strive to make things predictable and repetitive (and there is no coincidence that my thesaurus says that boring and monotonous are synonyms to repetitive). While what we think is beautiful is almost never predictable and repetitive. Esthetically we seek complexity all the time, not chaos, some order is actually preferred by or senses.

For a new farming system, for a new relationship between man and nature but also for a future society we should seek diversity and complexity. It is also in this line of thought where one can find a rational argument in favour of that “scale matters”. I have always had sympathy for “small is beautiful” as Schumacher said, but I found it hard to provide solid arguments for why that is. With this perspective of border zones, complexity and diversity also points to that small may not only be beautiful, but also productive.

This is perhaps an interesting example of a border zone. Kids laughing and swimming in pool in the main square of Asuncion, the capital of Paraguya, which I recently visited. The main squares in these former Spanish colonies are mostly very strict, but here it was all relaxed, like the whole town.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Workers Safety in Addis Abbaba

No comments....

Biofuel in many shapes

I have been on a trip to Ethiopia and Zambia. Discussed biofuel in both places. Biofuel comes in many shapes and forms and I don't think it is appropriate to take a firm stance against or for biofuels as such.

It is quite clear that biofuels as such does not have the potential to replace all oil used. Not even for todays transport and even less with the growth of economies and population. There is simply not enough land for that. At the same time that can hardly be an argument biofuel. With that logic all alternative sources of energy useless as none of them will be enough - alone. Then there is this complaint that biofuels increase food prices or creating a lack of food. I have been arguing against this argument before and this year we see how little truth there is in that argument. Last year when food prices spiked many blamed that on biofuel. But today when the wheat price is almost falling through the floor, where are all these voices? What do they say now?

Of course, there can be such a competion, in the same way as there can be competition between animal feed and food, between tobacco and food, between wool and food (sheep raising for wool were allegedly the main reason for the big Irish famine, rather then potato blight as often said), betweem cotton and food, between roads and food (as most roads are built on prime agriculture land). But humans have always produced biofuels and bio energy: Firewood, charcoal, horses and oxen for traction etc. In Sweden some fifteen percent of our land was used to feed horses before.

In Zambia I visited Bruno's Jatropha (see picture), a local entrepreneur that has raised some 1 million Jatropha seedlings. His idea is that smallholders grow it as a hedge row along their fields. He says that 1 million hectare of Jatropha would satisfy all Zambias energy needs. Zambia as a land-locked country without oil is in a desperate need of energy. During my visit they run out of petrol, and that happens quite often. Zambia has plenty of land that can be used for Jatropha or other biofuels, such as ethanol from cane.

Of course there is totally another story if big biofuel projects chase people off the land, but that is no different then when they do that for producing rice or cotton. For those whose land is grabbed it makes little difference what the land is used for...

We must cut down on energy use. There are no silver bullets, not even solar energy will for a foreseeable future be enough. In theory it could but we look perhaps hundred years ahead for that energy party. Today we need to save.

A flamboyant

Just came from Zambia where the Jacaranda, Bougainvillea and the Flamboyant bloomed.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tipping towards the unknown

- The human pressure on the Earth System has reached a scale where abrupt global environmental change can no longer be excluded. To continue to live and operate safely, humanity has to stay away from critical ‘hard-wired´ thresholds in Earth´s environment, and respect the nature of planet's climatic, geophysical, atmospheric and ecological processes, says Johan Rockström, Director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre. A group of 28 internationally renowned scientists propose that global biophysical boundaries, identified on the basis of the scientific understanding of the Earth System, can define a ‘safe planetary operating space´ that will allow humanity to continue to develop and thrive for generations to come. Read more about it on "Tipping towards the unknown"

I could not agree more. Thes girls and guys have identified nine critical boundaries, of which at least six are elaborated upon in depth in my Garden Earth book. I believe the disturbances in the Nitrogen cycle is likely to be one of the most critical issues.

The scientist write:
"Nitrogen and phosphorus inputs to the biosphere and oceans
Human modification of the nitrogen cycle has been even greater than our modification of the carbon cycle. Human activities now convert more N2 from the atmosphere into reactive forms than all of the Earth´s terrestrial processes combined. Much of this new reactive nitrogen pollutes waterways and coastal zones, is emitted to the atmosphere in various forms, or accumulates in the terrestrial biosphere. A relatively small proportion of the fertilizers applied to food production systems is taken up by plants. A significant fraction of the applied nitrogen and phosphorus makes its way to the sea, and can push marine and aquatic systems across thresholds of their own. A concrete example of this effect is the decline in the shrimp catch in the Gulf of Mexico due to hypoxia caused by fertilizer transported in rivers from the US Midwest."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Happiness or opression?

I saw this line of children in the streets of Stockholm the other day. First I thought they were cute. But then my mind drifted to the image of prisoners being brought to work by their wardens, or slaves marching towards a miserable life. There are several ways to see the same thing and we draw very different conclusions.

I hope you give yourself time to think about this image and the billion of people spending hours commuting in buses, trams, metros or endless car ques - or in assembly lines of the various sorts. Are we training free-thinking, happy people or are we adapting our children very early to a confined life? To a life in lines, straight lines.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Is Global Democracy Possible?

Yesterday I participated in a lecture and debate with Jan Aart Scholte, from Building Global Democracy, organised by the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation. It was an interesting event and there was a lot of discussion afterwards. One of these "talks" that is so valuable for development of new ideas and perspective. Mr Scholte likened the global governance structure as a donut, with a large number of actors and nothing in the middle. Having said that he also didn't call for some global government to be put there in the middle. He also made a point of that business are not at all anti-regulation, on contrary they love regulations as long as they are made in their interest. I thought about the WTO as a perfect such example. The whole reasons to set up the WTO is to make rules that are good for business.

The most interesting aspect from my perspective is what other forms and institutions we can develop for governance than the (nation) state. Some people have a tendency to overplay the role of the nation state. They are called sovereigns but hardly ever are they sovereign. There are also on the national level a lot of other institutions that are competing with it for power. First we have the market, see my posting below. I don't think anybody disputes the strength of "the market" as an institution. But we have many more. In Sweden our municipalities have a certain degree of self-rule, i.e. the national government can't boss them around. Then we have a myriad of cooperatives or other ways that people associate to "govern" things that are important for them, e.g. a church, a landscape, water pipes or housing. Of course, in theory the nation state could forbid all these things, but in doing so it would both loose legitimacy and the foundation for its own existence. In addition nothing would work properly if all initiatives outside the state are oppressed. That is why dictatorships are not only bad from a democracy perspective, they are also bad for business and development.

Today, also national governments are subject to international regulations and standards that they have to obey. Many of them are actually set by non governmental organisations. That is in particular the case for standards. They are by and large developed outside governmental structures. But it also holds true for technology in general and many business arrangements.

Realising that the nation state is only one of many forms for governance and seeing the existing reality in global governance, i.e. a whole pot of intergovernmental organisation, private sector organisations, business associatons, civil society, international courts etc., it becomes clear to me that a discussion about global governance can't look only, or not even mainly into the WTO and the UN. They surely have their role, and there is a lot to be done to make them work better. The UN system has increasingly engaged civil society, and I have personally participated in various UN processed and events (such as the Johannesburg summit 2002) as a civil society representative. The WTO falls even short of that. Already national governments are increasingly loosing legitimacy in the eyes of their citizens and intergovernmental organisation certainly have even bigger problems with legitimacy. e.g. the EU has a major legitimacy problems towards the citizens of the EU member states. This is one reason, but there are many more, for why I believe intergovernmental organisations will not be the most interesting actors for global governance in the future (I now think in decades and not in years). I believe we can see more interesting things for governance and democracy develop outside of those inter-governmental organisations, in the same was as we see more interesting innovation in governance outside the nation state.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Floating gardens

Floating gardens

Adapting to climate change in Bangladesh

Much of the land in the Gaibandha district of Bangladesh is covered by water during the monsoon season, making it impossible to grow crops. Practical Action has developed a technology to allow farmers to grow food on flooded land. read more

One -extreme perhaps - example of how we can adapt to a changing climate. Reminds me of my nephew Victor who farmed on a boat and used shopping carts filled of dirt as substrate for the cultivation. It is all about adapting to the ecological conditions. The peoples and societies that can do that will be the winners in the future.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The state and the market - two competing institutons

In politics there is often a gap between those that want that a problem should be regulated by the state or by the market. The former are often socialist and the latter liberals, somewhat simplified. One can view both the state and the market as social institutions that regulate the relationship between people. Which institution you like the best may depend on how it is organised and which context you are in. The same person that is sceptical to market solutions may feel fully at ease and on an equal footing with the farmer from which she buys her organic veggies, and may think that it awful that the government forces him to keep her chicks inside because of bird flu or that he has to spend a lot of money to invest in a new packing shed for the veggies to comply with government regulations. And she that is against "big government" may demand that governments step in and take over bankrupt banks or support ailing car industries.Not to speak of that they often support big tax-financed repressive forces (military and police).

In shape and form the market and the state are very different. We, as citizens have very little access to the state, our role is to pay taxes and regularly cast a vote for who should rule us. The market on the other hand is a lot more participatory and at least in theory we are all equal (admittedly a bit theoretical). The market can be seen as a social network, and with that view the difference to the state is less. And it becomes even less when governments, like they increasingly do, take over the management methods and organisational principles from them market place; the language of the market place (we all heard government agencies speaking about clients and customers) and finally purchase a lot of its services in the market place.

The problem with the market is mainly that those that already have the upper hand, those with better information or better bargaining power gets a better deal most of the time and that the gaps tend to increase rather than decrease. Government take-over of markets have been disastrous most of the time, but the market take-over of government is almost as bad. The main challenge for the future lies not only in improvement of the workings of the market and improvements in democracy and finding the right balance between market and state. I believe it lies as much or more in the development of new institutions that will take over relevant parts of what is now done by either market or state.

Herein lies the real opportunity for change.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

We are part of nature

Sweden yesterday inaugurated its first truly marine national park, the Koster sea.

Greenpeace protests against that local fishermen will be allowed to fish in the national park and they threaten to dump boulders to prevent trawling. We are speaking about a fishery of shrimp, crayfish, crab and lobster mainly. The local fishermen have been trained in how to fish in a sustainable way and they have had to amend their gear to suit the conditions. Greenpeace says that despite training once, in 2004, some fishermen had damaged a precious corral. I have not studied the details of the arrangement – and I am quite convinced that Greenpeace can be right in that observation but I don’t agree with their conclusions: There is no wilderness on this planet, there are no truly wild landscapes. From the African Savannahs and the Amazon rainforest to the archipelago in Sweden, the human being has been part of the landscape for millennia.

Similarly as for the fishery the county administration states that farming will continue. The continued use of the land is a prerequisite for the maintenance of the cultural and esthetic values. Continued grazing is essential and it is desirable to increase the number of animals grazing.

It is a lot more important that we promote a connectedness and an active use of “the wild” than that we try to exclude all humans from interaction with it. Those against often claim that the economic value of “the wild” can be bigger if used for tourism than if used for production. That is perhaps often true, but there are many nuances here. And who says that economic value should be the yardstick in the first place.

- one is that the tourism itself, even if it is based on just observing can be very intrusive and probably disturb wildlife even more than commercial use. I have had the benefit of whale-watching in New Zealand and seeing the incredible wild life on the African Savannah. And in most cases it is like a crazy zoo, of cars or boats rushing from one site to the other, with drivers in constant radio contact to ensure “value for money”. The cars and the tourists seem to upset the wildlife more than the Massai herding their cattle.
- the other is that the wildlife tourism represent a consumption culture, a way of interaction with nature where we consume the experiences, but don’t interact. I enjoy this activity myself, but we should realize that it is not the same (true) nature experience where we live in/with the wild, where we get our livelihoods in the wild. And that part of human culture is essential and as endangered as the landscapes that go with them. The Innuit hunting seals are a lot better ecologically adapted than the city-dwellers that protest against it. The Massai herdsmen are a lot better ecologically adapted than the city vegan eating a global mix of a scientifically composed diet – and of course a lot better ecologically adapted than the city-dweller eating hamburgers at McDonalds.

Others claim that the wild has its own rights and that regardless of what we want and the economic values we have a moral obligation to let it be. Yes, but……

- As I explained above almost all landscapes have been influences by humans today, so whatever we considered to be “wild” is actually something that is the result of a long term interaction between a number of species and their environment, and in most cases the human has been a main actor to shape the environment. The Koster Sea would not be what it is without the humans. To throw us out is not the recipe to keep what is valuable today. To throw us out is to create a new “unhuman” landscape that never existed.
- Already some 5000 years ago we had expanded into almost all parts of the globe. And 200 years ago we farmed allover the place. As a matter of fact, humans have pulled back a bit lately in rich countries, that is why rural areas are depopulated and the number of deer and foxes are exploding and meadows are (re)converted to forests. Other wildlife invades our cities, e.g. seagulls are now abundant not only in coastal cities.
- Farming has been the biggest blow to wildlife since humans appeared. In the end it means that we shouldn’t have domesticated plants and animals, that we would still be 10 million hunters and gatherers on this planet. The expansion of farm land and pasture to 35-40 percent of the surface of the globe is without comparison the biggest habitat destruction. Many times worse then the logging in the Amazon (which is also driven by farming) or shrimp trawling in the Koster sea. Another story is that farming, and even more grazing, has created its own new precious landscapes, landscapes that we hold in very high esteem.

I strongly object to the rapid destruction of habitat for many species, and I think we humans must voluntarily reduce our impact on nature, but in the process of finding a sustainable relationship between man an nature, we would not only need to get rid of unscrupulous business tycoons. We would also be better off with fewer people having an idealistic view of nature, where the human being is seen as an alien. It is only by seeing the importance of the interaction between man and the rest of nature that we can find our way for the future.

Also we need to shed the idea of ecosystems being in some kind of static balance. They might be in some kind of balance (whatever that means) most of the time, but they are far from static, they change all the time. And humans are part of those ecosystems. This insight are in no way a justification for the current rape of the earth and the total disregard of other species. On contrary, it is an insight that shows the way for a future redefined relationship between (wo)man and nature.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Pathetic greenwashing

I see TV commercials for the new Sony Ericsson phone. The slogan is "Save the Planet in Style".

The only thing the ad offers in that regard is that the phone is made with recycled plastic. That is just pathetic!

I agree that many small steps and changes in our daily behaviour are important to save the planet, but the use of recycled plastic in a mobile phone deals with a very, very minor part of the environmental impact of the use of cell phones.
The mobile phone network uses an awful lot of energy, the mobile phones are made of a number of nasty materials and uses rare minerals, the control of which are subject to wars (Congo), they are soaked in flame retardants, the batteries are an environmental problem, the radio waves are possibly dangerous etc. The constant shift to new models drives a crazy consumption and then we are supposed to have a good consciousness beacuse the thing is using recycled plastic. And even worse the slogan Save the Planet is used to sell the stuff. I have always had Ericsson and later Sony Ericsson phones (because my grandfather worked for them) but this kind of absurd greenwashing is hypocritical so I might consider buying another one.

To be fair to Sony Ericsson they are not alone. My daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet features an article that tells me how I can fly to Thailand with a good consciousness, by offsetting carbon emissions. Corporate Responsibility and other sustainability schemes are popular in the most dirty segments of our businesses, not to speak about in the bank sector which is more to blame than any other sector for facilitating irresponsible consumption.

It is of course better to offset carbon emissions when flying and to use recycled plastic for the mobile phone than not to do it. But the truth of the matter that this kind of "greenwashing" just keep us on consumption patterns that are not sustainable. Consume less is still the best recipe for "saving the planet" (an expression which in itself is stupid - we are not threatening the planet, our behaviour is rather threatening the survival of the human being). No Corporate Responsibility programs or Global Compacts or voluntary Carbon trading will change that. And companies that wants to be relevant in the future world surely have to do a lot more than that.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Garden Earth – a study in political ecology and economic democracy

There is no land left to settle, the last frontier we have left to civilize is ourselves. (Jewel).

Garden Earth looks at human society from several perspectives. It avoids the trap of using just one lens for making sense of the world. The main themes examined by Garden Earth are ecology; society and its power relations; the market economy; and technology and energy. And it takes the long view. In this way it is the opposite to the current flow of books on climate change; the financial crisis; the food and agriculture crisis or peak-oil. It does, however, help make sense of these present day problems and also offers a path for future developments.

Garden Earth looks at the history of human society, how it was shaped by ecological and social conditions. As an example, it shows the importance of trade for our ecological adaptation. People might believe that trade emerged as a means to make profit, but the reality is that trade is what enabled us to populate areas were some essential resource was missing. Garden Earth discusses the reasons for success – and failures – of civilizations, and it explains how and why capitalism developed in Western Europe despite the fact that just 300 years earlier Western Europe was an impoverished part of the world.

A main focus of the book covers the technical and energy development “complexes”. This includes the first use of fire, how animal energy was harnessed traction and transport, and the use of wind for trade and for new conquests. Up to the mid eighteenth century wood was the main source of energy, and that led to intense pressure on the forests; large tracts of Europe and other developed parts of the world were deforested. Coal changed all this. In the short run it saved the forest. In the long run, however, it paved the way for an enormous expansion in energy use to a level where each human use energy resources corresponding to the manpower of thirty, forty people. This has enabled the situation to develop where more than 40 percent of the land surface is used for food production and for our cities, and where more than a 100 percent of the total production capacity of the planet is used annually – clearly not a sustainable situation.

In early societies it was obvious that more energy had to be produced than was consumed, otherwise humanity could not have worked and reproduced. With the introduction of fossil fuel this all changed. In the modern day, some 15-150 times (figures vary considerably depending on how they are calculated) as much energy is used to produce our food than we get from it. This is an extremely inefficient system!

In general, it is only in recent centuries that humans have been motivated by material wealth and economic gain. This one-sided emphasis on material wealth, growth and profit was a forceful driver for the development of the modern market economies, and it has created unprecedented productivity and wealth. It has also contributed to the increase of human rights and liberation of women and other oppressed groups compared to the preceding feudal societies. But it has also come with a price. The price is depletion of natural resources; squeezing out other organisms and ecosystems to such an extent that we are endangering our own survival; causing climate change and chemical and medical contamination, to mention just a few. Further, there is no evidence that this growth has delivered more human well-being. Is not well-being that we should be striving for rather then GDP figures?

Our society faces many challenges. On the one hand, the pressure on natural resources, in particular all the ecosystem services and on the other hand poverty and inequality. Our society has no mechanisms to value the services of nature. This has led to large scale depletion. One way of dealing with this is to “liquidate” these resources and services, e.g. with carbon payments or payment to farmers for environmental services. There is a certain logic to this approach, but it also means that we are using the same system that actually created the problem, that is, capitalism, to fix it. Is that wise? Capitalism and market economy have gradually expanded to bigger and bigger sections of our life: from markets for goods, then to labour and soil. Later on financial markets – buying money for money – developed. Lately there has been a large scale “marketization” of social capital, when public goods have been transferred to private ownership and management. To let nature itself – the air we breathe, the water we drink – be managed by markets seems like a very risky venture.

Our society and the capitalist market economy have failed in creating wealth for the many. Big parts of humanity are as poor today as they were fifty years ago, despite unprecedented growth worldwide markets. We have failed to create an equitable society. In addition, the economic system, supposedly managing itself through the “invisible hand”, is in constant need of corrections and controls, simply because it doesn’t work as it is supposed to.

The capitalist economy and its associated values – such as the vision of constant growth – were perhaps appropriate for a world bent on expansion and colonization. But we have now colonized what there is to colonize and spread ourselves over all parts of the globe. Even if economic growth is still possible (we can always create new ‘virtual’ globes on the internet, can’t we?), biological, physical and geographic growth isn’t. Therefore, we need new values and paradigms. Most likely we also need a new economy and new forms of social capital. Population growth also needs to be checked.

We have changed the globe so much that Nature can’t make it without us anymore and more and more wild life is dependent on us for its survival. There is no point in looking back to the time when we were equal to the elk, the carrot and the sheep. Today, whether we like it or not, we must act as gardeners for the whole Garden Earth. And we must manage the planet as a garden, as our garden.

The views above include some of the essential discussions of the book, Garden Earth. It is currently a 400-page book in Swedish, due to be published later this year. En English version is under production. Publishers are welcome to contact me...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bicycles and sun

Increased use of bicycles in the cities would be valuable to save energy, to save life, to reduce congestion and thereby increase speed, to reduce noise and not the least to make people more fit. There are several reasons for why people don't take the bike. A few don't even know how to do it, but mostly it has to do with comfort and convinience and a bit of safety. Separate bike paths or streets dedicated to cyclists are two good things. In cold and rainy climates rain or snow are real hurdles. A roof over the bike path could increase the interest a lot. That might not work well in the city centres for both practical and estetical reasons, but in the outskirts and suburbs a roof on top would be great. And it would be even better to put up photovoltaic cells on top of them, perhaps even integrated in the roofs. In this way we would both promote increased use of bicycles and more solar energy, and use "dead" surfaces for energy production. Obviously pedestrians should also have access to these. Construction companies could perhaps make covered bike path modules that they could easily "roll out". A lot better use of society's money than support to destructive technologies such as the car industry.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I am a bit lazy now and write nothing new. Instead I refer my readers to some other interesting sites. Today Zunia org, a well developed source of environment and development news on the net.

Should we seek to save industrial civilisation?

Instead of writing my own thing here I refer you to a rather interesting exchange of ideas between George Monbiot and Paul Kingsnorht

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Are we doing the right thing?

It has been raining a lot here lately. And the flowers in this pot were almost suffocating from oxygen deficiency as the soil was saturated with water. So we used an old umbrella as a "rain shelter". It was a practical quick fix. Was it a good solution?

There were perhaps two other possibilities: 1. stopping the rain or 2. improve the drainage. Of those alternatives the first is perhaps a bit megalomaniac and would have enormous consequences on all other things. But the second alternative is quite feasible. It is actually a better solution than the umbrella (but not at all as fun to make a picture of).

When thinking about this I remember a story of an Indian ruler that was annoyed over that the ground was uneven and hurting his feet. He ordered that the earth be covered by skins to make it smooth and nice to walk. One of his advisors modestly suggested that the problem could perhaps be dealt with by cutting pieces of skin and fit to the feet of the people, i.e. making sandals.

Seeing the actions taken agains climate change or other challenges in the world, I sometimes wonder if we really take the right measures, or if we put umbrellas over our flower pots or cover the earth with skins?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Why should organic be regulated but not Fair Trade?

In the "COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE, contributing to Sustainable Development: The role of Fair Trade and nongovernmental trade-related sustainability assurance schemes" from EU Commission of 5 May, the commission "Reiterates the importance of maintaining the non-governmental nature of Fair Trade and other similar sustainability schemes throughout the EU. Public regulation could interfere with the workings of dynamic private schemes." I could not agree more. The EU has had a similar approach to environmental labelling, where it does run an own scheme, but it has not regulated or banned other environmental labelling schemes.

BUT it is very hard to see the logic why the EU thinks that organic labelling needs regulation. Fair trade labelling, eco labelling and organic are all sustainability labelling schemes and the arguments for staying out of regulation are the same for all of them. When the commission says:
"Regulating criteria and standards would limit a dynamic element of private initiatives in this field and could stand in the way of the further development of Fair Trade and other private schemes and their standards." this is equally true for the organic sector.

There will be scandals and fraud without a regulation - but they are there also with a regulation...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Shrinking marginal benefits of globalisation?

One can discuss if not the marginal benefits of globalisation and international competition are decreasing over time.

The first international trade was ecologically motivated, i.e. populations and cultures in one part of the world lacked locally available critical resources, such as flint, bronze, salt etc. So trade was an ecological adaptation totally essential for human survival.

Gradually trade has been more and more motivated by profits. Free trade and competition and in particular the lowered prices for transport from mid 1800s led to a global division of labour. A division of labour which similarly as the division of labour in the family, within a company or within a society has two functions: one is the increased efficiency in the production and the other is a increased stratification of society with increased inequality and more hierarchy. This is also what we can see in the world today, where some countries are locked in a poverty trap. And despite the promotion of globalisation as a solution they have not benefitted at all.

It also seems that globalisation itself has the effect of gradually reducing the accrued benefits. The theory in favour of globalisatoin is about competition between companies and innovation plays a big role. Innovations are now global. An innovation in Japan can result in a production in Mexico exporting to Scandinavia. This is also linked to increased standardisation on all levels from production to management. There is very little space for innovation on the production level and even when there is innovation it can be applied everywhere. This also means that there is actually little money and profit to be made in the production as such. The money to be made is upstreams, i.e. in the patents and downstream, i.e. in the marketing and branding. It is no coincidence that most successful companies have no own production any longer.

For the production proper the comparative advantages are now mainly about salaries and other components of human and social capital, as all other factors are more or less the same all over the globe (this is based on the low transport costs based on too cheap fossil energy). A factory in Thailand may very well be owned by a company from India, have an American manager and using technology from Singapore. Therefore it is not the own resources of that company that makes it different from their competitors. It is the Thai labour force and the Thai makroeconomics that shall compete with India, Germany and Brazil.

If this analysis is correct it means that it is not companies or entrepreneurs that compete with each other, but it is political systems and states that compete. States can compete by distorting the game with subsidies (such as OECD countries support to its farm sector) or by investing in human or social capital (e.g. by eductions) or by creating a good "business climate" (law and order, less red tape). And one can wonder, why it is wrong that countries compete by spending their resources where they think they make most use? The question is if we perhaps do more harm that good by trying to standardise how countries operate, wether it is done by the EU, the WTO or other mechanisms?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

God and nature

Mostly, the emergence of religion is explained by the need of people to have the mysteries of the world explained to them and to understand how the human being interacts with nature. Perhaps that is true, I don't know and I don't think that there is any way to verify that assumption. But looking at the monoteist religions of today it is hard to see that link.

I think that the role of religion has a lot more to do with society and our relations among ourself, than about our relationship with nature. The early animist and polytheist religions were a lot more "democratric" and some of them included some kind of worship of nature. Gods were like people, they quarreled and fought with each other (like the Greek gods or the Nordic ones). Things changed with the introduction of the monoteist, omnipotent and judging God. Both in regard to the relationship to nature and the relationship between God and (wo)man.

In these religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, there is very little about nature and the place of the human being in the world, and there is very little about all these scaring natural phenomena that religion is supposed to explain. Of course one can find passages in the Bible which are about nature - such as the creation- but they are really few compared to what is about the human being, society and God himself (or herself if you prefer).

Of the ten commandments in the Bible seven are about how we relate to each other and the other three about how we relate to God and to religion itself. I think that shows quite clearly the societal nature of religion.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Living roof and advanced recycling

Hi, wanted to share two pictures:

This is a boy in Uganda that has made a cap of small plastic containers in which the local liqour is sold. People throw them away and hey this coming guy makes a cap!

The picture below is of the living roof of the extension of our house. Isn't it beautiful? A living roof has a number of advantages such as:
- it keeps the heat in winter and the cool in summer
- it slows the runoff so there is less water to take care of/drain away - particularly important in cities
- it is beautiful, perhaps the most important criteria for us.

Living roofs can be made with a variety of materials, in this case it is sedum plants. It can also be grass and moss in our climate.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Plows into Swords and Swords into Plows

The links - and the competition - between food production and war is an old one and mentioned already in the Bible.

Reuters report April 20 that Algeria is suffering a potato shortage because officials have imposed strict controls on the use of fertiliser to stop al Qaeda militants using it as a bomb-making ingredient, farmers said. Security experts say ammonia, used by farmers to improve crop yields, has also been found in bombs detonated by Algerian militants affiliated to al Qaeda.State security forces in this North African country have cracked down hard on the insurgents but farmers say there has been an unforeseen consequence: a kilo of potatoes in the capital now costs more than three times what it used to.

In India the collapse of the Mughal empire lead to a lot of fighting. When Ahmed Shah Durrani invaded India 1759 the demand for buffaloes and oxen for transport of armies increased so much that their price rose five times, clearly reducing the agriculture production seriously.

In Sweden, France and Germany in the 16th to 18th century farmers were forced to deliver nitrates to the governments for the making of gunbpowder. That nitrate was extracted from the manure and meant that large quantities of nutrients were taken from farming and virtually exploaded into the air. Obviously with detrimental effects on farm production.

Peru and Bolivia even fought a long war with Chile over nitrate resources 1879 to 1883 (Chile won)

Nitrogen production got the biggest boost from World War II developments. Nitrogen is, of course, one of the main ingredients in explosives. During the 1930s, the U.S. government spent millions of dollars researching how to produce nitrogen from the air we breathe. That process requires a lot of electricity, so some of the first plants were built near hydroelectric dams in the TVA. The nitrogen produced took the chemical form of ammonia.

When World War II started, the government constructed 10 new plants to produce ammonia for munitions. All were located in the interior of the country. Several of the plants were built alongside natural gas pipelines so they could use the gas as raw material for their production. By the end of the war, these new plants and the old ones were producing 730,000 tons of ammonia each year, and had the capacity of producing 1.6 million tons.When the nitrogen was no longer needed for bombs, what were they going to do with all this capacity? The answer was, use the nitrogen-rich ammonia for fertilizing the nation's crops.

Other examples of the relationship is the immense deforestation of certain parts of the world for (war) ship building a deforestation that caused erosion and local climate change.

All through history wars have affected farming, and even today consumers in Algeria have to pay a triple price for their spuds because of war. When will this end?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Time for a soil convention!

The topsoil is one of the most fundamental assets we have, a natural capital. Soil formation is slow, to build up a cm takes centuries. To destroy it takes just a few years. Many civilizations have been ruined by their lack of care for the soil. It is high time that an international convention for protection of soils is signed and implemented. Not that I have any high expectations that such a convention will deliver so much. Changing the habits of a billion farmers is not easy, and changing the habit of cities and citizens to swallow fertile lands for infrastructure is also very hard. Nevertheless a soil convention would highlight the issues.

Not only soil eroision is problematic but also the transformation of soils into urban infrastructure, dams etc. Here global statistics are pretty wobbly, figures from 3 to 9 percent of land transformed to infrastructures appear. In fairly densly populated Denmark almost 20 percent of the land is used for human infrastructure.

Most of cities, houses and roads are built on arable land. In China approximately 600.000 hectares per year are transformed to human infrastructure. In Sweden 345.000 hectares are covered with roads, that corresponds to more than ten percent of the arable land (not all of it is of course built on arable land).

It is ironic that people are upset about land use for biofuel while they gladly drive their petrol driven cars on top of the ruined soil.
(Yes, I think that government subsidised bio fuels is dubious, no, I don't think it is ethical to take food from the poor and drive cars, yes, I think biofuels are a lot better than petrol if properly made, yes, I think high prices for agricultural products are good)

It is high time for a Soil Convention. Is UNEP the one taking the lead? Which country will suggest it?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Who said that?

"Freedom exists in the space between what there is and what is possible"
Have you heard that expression? Who said it (I don't think i did...)?
I try to trace it. It is formulated well. Or is it too obvious, self-evident?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sobering words from Keynes

I wish that world leaders - and people in common would consider Keynes words at the time of the last depression, and perhaps look more inte the real problems of this world:

"But, chiefly, do not let us overestimate the importance of the economic problem, or sacrifice to its supposed necessities other matters of greater and more permanent significance. It should be a matter for specialists-like dentistry. If economists could manage to get themselves thought of as humble, competent people, on a level with dentists, that would be splendid!"

Keynes, John Maynard, 1930, Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren

The full paper can be found at

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

More people, less nature

One doesn't have to be an economist to realise that we value something higher that is in short supply than something that is abundant. For a long time nature was seen as unlimited, just for us to exploit as we saw fit. Up to the industrial revolution exploitation was fairly proportionate to the growing population. With the industrial revolution we expand exploitation through the application of energy and technology at a raging pace. But we can see that resources are depleted and that we need to take better care of them. At the same time our population has exploded.

Not that I think we should compare humans and trees but to put it a bit provocatively: As we have more and more people and less and less nature, we have to value nature higher and people less, or at least human labour less."Saving" nature must have priority over saving labour. A question is how we make a system of regulations and incentives to cater for that, a system that doesn't erode respect for human rights and human values?

Or is there another logic here?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Garden Earth - a modern civilization

There is no land left to settle, the last frontier we have left to civilize is ourselves.(Jewel)

Garden Earth is my project to summarize thirty years of thoughts and a whole lot of practical experiences of environment economy and society. I have been frustrated with that most books and debates are about one issue at the time and then people try to explain and predict everything from that perspective. One year ago it was climate change, today it is the financial crisis. I have written the Garden Earth to merge political, social, ecological and economical analyses.

I look at the history of human society, how it was shaped by ecological and social conditions. As an example, I show the importance of trade for our ecological adaptation. People might believe that trade emerged as a means to make profit, but the reality is that trade is what enabled us to populate areas were some essential resource was missing. A main focus are the technical and energy development “complexes”. From the first use of fire, we harnessed energy in animals for animal traction and transport and in the wind for trade and for new conquest. Up to around 1750, wood was still the main source of energy, and that led to a very high pressure on the forests, large tracts of Europe and other developed parts of the world were almost deforested.

Coal changed all this. In the short run it saved the forest. In the long run however it was paving the way for an enormous expansion of our energy use to a level where each human use energy resources corresponding to thirty, forty people. And this has enabled the development where we now use more than 40 percent of the land surface for production of food and for our cities, and where we annually use more than 100 percent of the total production capacity of the planet – clearly not a sustainable situation.

Our society faces a lot of challenges. On the one hand, the pressure on the natural resources, in particular all the ecosystem services. On the other hand poverty and inequality. Our society has no mechanisms to value the services of nature. This has led to large scale depletion. One way of dealing with this is to “liquidate” these resources and services, e.g. with carbon payments or payment to farmers for environmental services. There is a certain logic to that, but it also means that we let the same system that actually created the problem, capitalism, fix it. Is that wise. Capitalism and market economy has gradually expanded to bigger and bigger parts of life. From markets for goods, then to labor and soil. Later on financial markets – buying money for money – developed. Lately we have seen a large scale “marketization” of social capital, when public goods have been transferred to private ownership and management. To also let nature itself, the air we breathe, the water we drink be managed by markets seems like a very risky venture.

My study has a special focus on energy and farming, both critical for our survival. And farming is all about energy, our food is the basic energy source. In early societies it was obvious that we had to produce more energy than we consumed, otherwise we could not work and reproduce. With the introduction of fossil fuel this all changed. Now we use some 15-150 times (figures vary a lot depending on how it is counted) as much energy to produce our food than we get from farming. Hey, that is a extremely inefficient system!

Our society and the capitalist market economy has failed in creating wealth for the many. Big parts of humanity are as poor today as they were fifty years ago, despite an unprecedented growth. We have failed to create an equitable society. In addition, the economic system, supposedly managing itself through the “invisible hand”, is in constant need of corrections and controls, simply because it doesn’t work as it is supposed to work.

The capitalist economy and its associated values – such as the vision of constant growth – were perhaps appropriate for a world bent at expansion and colonization. But we have now colonized what there is to colonize and spread ourselves on all parts of the globe. Even if economic growth perhaps is still possible (we can always create some new virtual globes on the internet, can’t we?), biological, physical and geographic growth isn’t. Therefore we need new values and paradigms. Most likely we also need a new economy and new forms of social capital.

We have changed the globe so much that Nature can’t make it without us anymore. On contrary, more and more wild life is dependent on us for its survival. There is no point in looking back to the time when we were equal to the elk, the carrot and the sheep. Today, weather we like it or not, we must act as gardeners for the whole Garden Earth. And we must manage the planet as a garden.

The thoughts above are some of the essential parts of my thinking. Garden Earth is currently a 400 page book in Swedish, where those thoughts are elaborated. My plan is to make an English edition - I am looking for a publisher.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

200 billion slaves

A human needs around 2500 kcal per day (2.9 kWh, most of it, around 80 percent is used just to stay, alive, think, sleep etc, so around 600 Wh are used for work as a power output. But let’s say that a person who is really doing physical work – which this is about anyway – generates some 800 Wh per day. On a yearly basis a person consumes some 1.16 MWh in the form of food.

Let us contrast this against how much other energy we have put to use in this modern world. The Swede use 5.65 toe (toe is ton oil equivalents, i.e. the energy in one metric tonne of oil), the American 7.71, the Britton 3.8 and the Senegalese use 0.20. Let’s look at the Swede: 5.65 toe corresponds to 65.7 MWh which means that we use ”external energy” corresponding to the energy of 57 human beings. But that is brut. If we look at hour conversion rate we said that we use only 20 percent of the food energy for actual work, so then we would use more than 250 peoples’ power. On the other hand, the external energy also has a lot of conversion losses. If we assume them to be 40 percent (this is now a bit of ”back of the envelope calculation) we are down to 100 energy slaves as I would call them. If we look at the global average energy use it is about one third of the Swede’s which means that there are about 200 billion energy slaves working for us all year round. It is not surprising that we can produce a lot more things than our savage ancestors. And it is not surprising that we also can make much greater mess than they could by using those forces in the wrong way!

Another way to look at the same condition, but adding an economic perspective is that one barrel of oil corresponds to 25 000 man-hours of work (around 12 man-years). The cost to actually produce this barrel is some few dollars per barrel. One can see that even with a price of 200 dollars per barrel that is a very cheap price to get 12 man-years of work done. Of course the barrel of oil is not as intelligent as the 12 humans and its use is thus a bit more limited…

Monday, April 13, 2009

Warning messages on consumer goods.

Positive labeling, such as organic labeling and eco-labeling have had a good impact. It also has a certain appeal within the capitalism paradigm. It is about giving the consumer accurate information. So far so good. However, we also know that the impact of these kinds of labeling schemes is limited. In addition, they have the perverse mechanism that those that are doing a good thing, such as organic farmers, are penalized with costs and scrutiny for an labeling, inspection and certification system. Those costs are passed on to the consumers who then are also penalized for making a benign choice. For those who see these schemes solely as marketing gimmicks this is perhaps considered as being fair. But if you see them as delivering public goods it is hard to defend – and this is also the reason that some governments take on the costs.

However, negative labeling could also fulfill the same role, or even more forceful role. We have seen the labeling on tobacco with unsympathetic warning messages – in some countries such as Thailand also with very repulsive pictures. In Sweden there is also warning messages on alcohol advertisements – but not on the product. This kind of negative labeling should be considerably expanded in my opinion. The first step would be to have a competition on what kind of messages there should be for selected damaging products.

-1.2 million people die per year in car accidents, many more are maimed for life.
-Cars emit 200 dangerous chemical compounds to nature every time you drive it.
-The car infrastructure (roads, garages etc.) destroys ??? m2 of land per car sold. In total cars have occupied an area corresponding to two France.
-regardless of which fuel you use for this device it will always take away resources that could be better used by poor people.
-Driving a car make you lazy and fat.

A conventional chicken:
- This chicken is fed with antibiotics and the consumption of chicken may increase risks for antibiotic resistance in bacteria
- This chicken is fed with hormones, which may cause reproductive disturbance, development of breasts in males, increased deformities in infants
- These chicken have never seen the light of day and have not been given the possibility to exercise their natural behaviors

A CD player
- this item is not likely to make you a happier person.
- this CD player contains 162 different dangerous chemicals. Most of them will end up in nature, some of them in your body when this item is used and disposed of.
-use this device only in aerated room for the first five months to ensure that most of the flame retardants and other substances emitted from by this item will not cause you damage.

Personally I find that this kind of labeling is a lot more interesting than labeling of origin, or carbon labeling or other labeling ideas that flourish.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Towards a new materialism!

We have been told, and I have said it myself, that this society is too materialistic. That the root cause of many of the problems is that we constantly want more "things" and that we don't care enough for nature our fellow humans or future generations. The antidote to this is supposedly a new spiritualism, perhaps inspired by earlier animistic or panteistic religions - God is everywhere, a proposal that also many Christians subscribe to, and which seems to fit well with e.g. Buddhism and Hinduism (perhaps Islam as well I just don't know enough about islam to know).

I think there is a certain point there, but that it is missing animportant perspective. We don't need more spirituality to balance materialism, we need a sound materialism.

What currently is called "materialism" is just "consumerism". It express itself by complete disrespect of "materials" and the mother of all "materials" - nature. I churns out millions of pretty useless objects per hour, most of which are soulless, have no history and no future. They are just there for a while before they become waste. It is "capitalism" in the sense that all resources have a price and that that price reflects the "value" of the resource. But all this averts our eyes for the materials themselves. Let us not throw out the baby, the feeling for the materials, with the bathwater, capitalism and consumerism.

Instead we need to release the "materials" and "nature" from our consumerism and capitalism and look upon them with different eyes. A real materialism would respect the materials, the quality, the inherent information: the millenia of history embedded i a piece of nature or the geological processes embedded in a piece of rock, or in that barrel of oil. A real materialism would represent the difference between good handicraft and crap from the indsutrial mills. A real materialism see to the tastes and smells of the food and value it for what it is. A real materialism would choose a wooden house or a stone house over a concrete block. Let us celebrate, birch wood, marble, iron, yes let us even celebrate oil as a wonder of nature and respect its real value. A real materialism would value the beauty of nature. A real materialism would not accept cruel treatment of animals or people, and not of nature at large. A real materialism would value things for their inherent quality, not for their market values. A real materialism would recognize the pricelessness of the world, rather than trying to allocate costs or values to everything. A real materialism would make us revel over the wonder of that little flower, that little grain of sand and oursleves.

What this means in practise? Hey, I have no idea, I am not in the business of selling a new brave world - at least not yet.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The wind and nuclear marriage - a coincidence?

I see quite a lot of wind mills here in Turkey. When I asked about it I am told that the new energy policies are promoting both wind energy and nuclear power. Does that sound familiar? For a Swede it surely does. Just less than a month ago the Swedish government launched a new policy which exactly had the same cute little marriage. Nuclear AND renewables. No more either or! I am not normally inclined towards consipracy theories, but when I hear the same story in countries like Turkey and Sweden, which current energy situation and mix are very different I get a bit freightened that somebody is behind pulling the strings? How is it in your country? Has the energy magicians suddenly also realised that nuclear and renewables is an invincible match?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Global Apartheid

When the Berlin Wall and the iron curtain crumbled, most people were happy. Finally people in the East would be free to move as they wished. Before the fall of the wall the few that managed to come over were allowed to stay and were perhaps interesting in the political game. But after the wall came down, suddenly the people from the former Communist countries were not welcome anymore. Now there are no longer any political reason to let people from Russia, Ukraine or Kazahkstan come here. The funny thing is that we criticise dictators for not allowing their population to travel, but if we don't give the visa to come here, how can we put the blame on the dictator. Blatant hypochrisy.

Similarily we honor those that helped Jews flee from the Nazis, and we honor other heros, real or invented, as the Scarlett Pimpernell who helt French nobles to flee from the revolution. But how is it today. Any person that helps a refugee from another country is guilty to trafficking, human smuggling or whatever it is called. As such they are subject to sever prison sentences. I am aware of that some of them - perhaps the majority - are crooks that take benefit of desperate people. But that misses the point. Firts there are also real saints among them, and secondly and perhaps more important, it is our refusal to allow these people entry that is the breeding grounds for these crooks. You might claim that those that are real refugees can always get asylum. But that is in theory. Most of them will never get the opportunity to even apply for asylum unless they get into the country illegally. Airlines don't let them on the plane, and if they do they are punished.

The limitation of free movement of people is a global Apartheid. I and most other rich people can go where we want, live were we want, work were we want. How can we deny other people the same rights.

Movement of people would have a major impact on the appaling inequality of the world.
1) Movement of people has an equalising impact on salaries. They go up in the countries from which people move and they go down in countries where they go
2) The remmittance of migrants to their home countries play a major role. In some countries it corresponds to 10 percent of the GDP.
3) Many migrants go back home. They often come with funds for investments, technical know-how, innovations and entrepreneurship
4) Migrants often maintain links in their old country, links that can be used for trade or investment.

Yes, I know about "brain-drain". But brain-drain is a problem of the existing system. We aleady allow medical doctors, nuclear scientists and top-notch professionals to come and live here.

On my way

I am on my way now. For another two month trip. I go by train now to Istanbul. From Istanbul ferry to Bandirma and then bus to Kyccukuyu wjere mybicycle is wating. I will stay a few days with friends and then contoinue along the Turkish coast. Proceeding over to some Greek Islands, towards Italy and home in some way.

Monday, February 16, 2009

How the cow and the wheat conquered the human being

We all know the story. We, the humans domesticated plants and animals and thereby created agriculture. Have you ever thought about taking the opposite perspective? That is to see it as an evolutionary strategy of the cow or of the wheat.

The cow saw these humans roaming the plant with forceful weapons (that is a bow and an arrow). She was afraid that she could be exterminated. And "if you can't beat them join them" as Mother Cow always told her subjects. So the cow decided to make the human being dependent on her. In this way she could give the human som service - meat, milk and hides - in exchange for protection.

And even more important, the human would expand the glory of the cow to almost all the corners of the planet. Cows don't like rubbing noses with polar bears or swimming in the ocean very much, so there were limits for cow expansionist. In India we can still see the traces of the religion the Cow so insidiously established to sway the lowly humans to take care of her. So now the cows fills the earth. The wheat had a similar strategy.

The cows are now getting quite worried for several reasons. One is that some people don't think there should be no cow-man cooperation in the future. They believe man should free himself from the dependency of the cow. Another issue is that man blame the cow for causing climate change. In Denmark the cows will now pay a special green house gas tax, as if cows ever liked greenhouses. But ultimately the cow is mostly worried for that in the process she has become so dependent on man. And man seems bound to exterminate himself by wreckless behaviour. And if man goes, cows will also go. Representatives of all cows are about to meet in a big cow-how to try to figure out what to do to save the human being from herself.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

dangerous or good?

I found this diagram about increase of productivity in the Swedish Forestry sector. I am a bit unsure about property rights so I don't dare to put the picture itself in my posting, but please look at it.

It expresses the number of kubic meters of timber that is "produced" per work day.

I think there are many different reactions on such a picture, such as:
- What an amazing productivity increase! We humans are really smart and our wealth increases all the time. Old time forest work was really hard and people broke their backs, sawed themsleves in the leg or got frost bites. Now they can sit comfortably in a nice machine. The moderna technology uses all parts of the tree in an efficient way.
- Ha, compare this graph with the salaries of the forest workers - how much did they get and how much was just increased profits.
- This is the danger of technology in a nutshell. Of course we can and will hurt nature more when we increases our powers ten times. Instead of a small-scale mosaic forestry this kind of mechanisation leads to large scale devastation. This increase of productivity has also led to the depopulation of the country side.
- Why do we cut down trees? Couldn't we let nature just be and make paper out of oil, power out of nuclear?
- The Swedish forestry sector is healthier than ever, but for some reason my investment in Swedish forestry stocks are just plummeting. why is that?

What do you think?

We are the happy owners of about 40 hectares of forest and I am currently busy taking down next year's firewood - with 1960s techologies......

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Which climate do you want ?

I sent the following as a letter to the editor to Financial times.

Humans have always dreamt about controlling the weather. Raindances, prayer and rituals have been used to call rain, to protect the crop from frost to avoid earthquakes etc. When we cut forests in the tropics what was earlier a tropical forest becomes a dry grassland. When we drain fields and wet land we create floods. On the big scale global warming shows that we can indeed influence the climate, even if it is not an effect of a explicit desire of a warmer climate. This means that we now have to agree on what weather we want to have. Should it be 2 degrees warmer or 5 or shall we keep it as it is. All is possible it just depends on what we want to pay. Can we get 5 degrees warmer here in Sweden and keep it like it is in the tropics and deserts. This kind of production is the real growth market. Instead of seeing it as a cost we should see it as a production for humanity, similar to the production of parks and other public goods. I can already see how the capalists rally for taking care of this growth segment in the market, and how they call for privatisation of the service. GDP increases, welcome to the new world.

Solar energy in Sahara?

We hear about that a rather small area of the Sahara desert would suffice for the whole European energy needs. This is still more an theoretical example to show the pootential of solar energy, rather than a real proposal. But the example also shows that the pattern of colonialist thinking doesn't disappear so easily.

Now, we don't want these people here in "our" Europe. We are afraid of their habits, culture and religion as well as the possible impact on our salaries and jobs. But we do, once again, see that they might have something that we could use and then we are all for "cooperation".

Why would we not cover parts of Spain, Italy or Greece with those solar panels? If the Libyans and Algerians could produce cheap electricity with solar panels, wouldn't it make more sense to use that electricity to desalinate water and use for irrigation, and sell that grain to the hungry Europeans? Or for them to produce the aluminium of the world, or the chemical fertiliser....

It is tiring that Europeans and Americans tend to see other people mainly as suppliers of things we need or consumers of stuff we want to sell. And not as fellow human beings.

Now, this posting is surely not against the development of photovoltaic cells, I think they are great and they do have potential. The posting is about the imbalanced thinking.